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Metamaterials could reduce friction in nanomachines
Date:12/7/2009

Nanoscale machines expected to have wide application in industry, energy, medicine and other fields may someday operate far more efficiently thanks to important theoretical discoveries concerning the manipulation of famous Casimir forces that took place at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory.

The groundbreaking research, conducted through mathematical simulations, revealed the possibility of a new class of materials able to exert a repulsive force when they are placed in extremely close proximity to each other. The repulsive force, which harnesses a quantum phenomenon known as the Casimir effect, may someday allow nanoscale machines to overcome mechanical friction.

Though the frictional forces in nanoscale environments are small, they significantly inhibit the function of the tiny devices designed to operate in that realm, explained Costas Soukoulis, a senior physicist at the Ames Lab and Distinguished Professor of physics at Iowa State University, who led the research effort.

Soukoulis and his teammates, including Ames Laboratory assistant scientist Thomas Koschny, were the first to study the use of exotic materials known as chiral metamaterials as a way to harness the Casimir effect. Their efforts have demonstrated that it is indeed possible to manipulate the Casimir force. The findings were published in the Sept. 4, 2009 issue of Physical Review Letters, in an article entitled, "Repulsive Casimir Force in Chiral Metamaterials."

Understanding the importance of their discovery requires a basic understanding of both the Casimir effect and the unique nature of chiral metamaterials.

The Casimir effect was named after Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir, who postulated its existence in 1948. Using quantum theory, Casimir predicted that energy should exist even in a vacuum, which can give rise to forces acting on the bodies brought into close proximity of each other. For the simple case of two paral
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Contact: Mark Ingebretsen
marki@ameslab.gov
515-294-3474
DOE/Ames Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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